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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 8:24 am

Serbia's billionaire retail tycoon detained


Serbia's billionaire retail tycoon and one of the Balkan country's most influential figures was detained Wednesday in what the nationalist government said is a major anti-corruption sweep.

Miroslav Miskovic, one of the richest people in impoverished Serbia, is the owner of Delta Holding company which deals with retail, real estate, insurance and agriculture business in Serbia and the rest of the Balkans.

He was detained by police along with his son Marko and eight other people in connection with privatization of several road construction and repair companies in 2005 during which the suspects allegedly "gained illegal profit" of about (EURO)30 million ($38.98 million), state prosecutors said. They said the suspects will be held at least 48 hours for questioning.

Serbia's nationalist government has launched several anti-corruption probes since coming to power in June. Critics say they have been mostly aimed at political opponents and allies of the country's previous pro-Western leadership. But Serbia must fight graft, if it wants to fulfill its goal of becoming a member of the European Union.

Police said that after his arrest, Miskovic made a verbal threat against Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who is spearheading the anti-corruption campaign. Police said that prompted them to raise the security level for Vucic.

Vucic said he has been informed by the police about "what Miskovic said upon detention, probably in rage."

"I don't think about that," Vucic said. "What is important for me is to show that there are no untouchable and protected people in Serbia."

Serbian media reported that Miskovic had threatened during his interrogation that Vucic would be harmed because of the arrest, but Miskovic's lawyers issued a statement denying that.

Miskovic, 67, created his business empire under the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, and expanded it after the leader's ouster in 2000. Miskovic's wealth in 2007 was estimated at some $2 billion ((EURO)1.54 billion), but is believed to have grown since then.

Miskovic briefly served as Serbia's deputy prime minister under Milosevic in 1990 when the Balkans started sliding into a civil war.

After Milosevic's ouster, Miskovic was believed to have financed several pro-Western parties and groups, thus playing a crucial role in keeping Serbia's current nationalist rulers and Milosevic's former allies out of power for almost 12 years.

Earlier this month, the tycoon was summoned for questioning in another corruption investigation. He has denied any wrongdoing.

His son Marko, the former owner of one of the privatized road-repair companies, tried to fly to London over the weekend, but was stopped at Belgrade airport and his passport was seized, police said.


Jovana Gec contributed to this article.